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Democratic Wins in Central City Ease Party's Woes : Elections: But the incumbents' easy victories, aided by lopsided voter registration, offer little solace amid Prop. 187 passage and heavy GOP gains elsewhere in the state and nation.


Democratic incumbents in central Los Angeles overwhelmed their largely unknown and underfunded opponents in the general election Tuesday, but for many, celebrations were tempered by the passage of Proposition 187 and significant Republican victories across the state and nation.

Lopsided voter registration favoring Democrats in the core city's congressional and state legislative districts meant that the actual competition for the seats occurred in the June primary. As usual, Tuesday's vote resulted in a series of Democratic landslides--in the area's closest contest, Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Monterey Park), won re-election by a comfortable 18 percentage point.

Still, the winners generally reacted more soberly than in the past.

Antonio Villaraigosa fought a bruising primary battle in June for the 45th Assembly District. On Tuesday he sailed past Republican Robert K. Jung and Libertarian Pam Probst in the general election. But Villaraigosa said he had barely campaigned since the primary, focusing instead on the governor's race and against Proposition 187, the initiative, soundly approved by voters, that cuts off most public services to illegal immigrants.

The 45th District "is one of the most progressive districts in the city and maybe in the state, so it's tailor-made for me," said Villaraigosa, 41, a longtime community activist and teacher's union representative who took the Northeast Los Angeles district with nearly 66% of the vote. "But it's hard to frankly feel good with the climate we're in."

He referred to Gov. Pete Wilson's easy election to a second term over Democrat Kathleen Brown and Republican gains in the Legislature that have split the Assembly almost evenly between the parties and left the Democrats with narrow control of the Senate.

Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles), who trounced Republican opponent Yongchul Yang and Peace and Freedom candidate William R. Williams to win his second four-year term, called the election results "extremely sobering." He predicted that the apparent lack of party majority could immobilize the assembly.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), who defeated Republican David A. Ramirez and Libertarian R. William Weilberg, mustered an upbeat tone despite the Democrats' loss of a majority in Congress after four decades.

"Everyone says adversity brings out the best in people, and so I think this is a call to the Democratic Party to define itself and also a call to Latinos to work with some other communities out there," said Becerra, 36, who won his second two-year term. "(Proposition) 187 is not going to stop in California."

In other races, Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton) retained his seat, winning nearly 78% of the vote despite his indictment in September on federal extortion and bribery charges. Tucker's only opponent was Libertarian Guy Wilson.

Tucker has denied the charges against him.

Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) stepped up to a Senate seat in the 22nd District with 72% of the vote, soundly defeating three opponents. Polanco vacated his 45th Assembly District seat to run for state Senate and will represent much of the same area, stretching from Highland Park through Echo Park and Silver Lake to South-Central, including parts of the Eastside, Hollywood and Mid-City.

Kevin Murray's victory in the 47th Assembly District gives the state its first father-son legislative duo. Murray, who won with 70% of the vote, joins his father, Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount), who coasted to reelection in the 52nd Assembly District, which includes Compton, Gardena, Lynwood and Watts.

Kevin Murray will represent an area in which he grew up. The district includes parts of Baldwin Hills, the Crenshaw district, Culver City, Palms and South-Central Los Angeles.

"I'm a little disappointed that the rest of our (Democratic) ticket didn't do so well, but I'm looking forward to representing my neighborhood," Murray, an attorney in Windsor Hills, said after the polls closed Tuesday.

Murray said his priorities will be to help small businesses grow in his district, reduce juvenile crime and eliminate teen-age pregnancy.

"There's no point in tackling crime when you've still got teen-age mothers cranking out more at-risk kids," he said.

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